British Columbia

Controversial Vancouver billboard vandalized

Police say their message was intended to be eye catching and thought provoking, as they deal with ongoing distraction thefts in the city. 

Billboards have been criticized heavily online, city councillor says message is confusing and possibly harmful

A billboard put up by the Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Police Foundation and Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers has been vandalized. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

A controversial billboard in Vancouver has been vandalized following criticism from a city councillor and online.

Nineteen bright yellow billboards in four different languages have popped up in Vancouver with a message from police: be cautious of strangers getting close or asking for help. 

The initiative is a partnership between the Vancouver Police Department, Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers and the Vancouver Police Foundation, with the cost split between the last two. 

Now, it's been painted over to say "be cautious of police getting close or trying to help."

Police say their message was intended to be eye catching and thought provoking, as they deal with ongoing distraction theft in the city. 

But the billboards have been the subject of significant online criticism over the past week. Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle said the billboards "send a confusing, and possibly harmful, message."

Vancouver Police Const. Tania Visintin says the original message is based on facts about distraction theft, which tends to target seniors and visible minorities. 

"The whole point of this billboard campaign ... was to draw attention to the ongoing distraction threats that have been going on in the city," Visintin said.

"They continue to happen, these types of crimes, so we needed we wanted a bold new way to really get the message across and get people's attention."

The Vancouver Police Department, Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers and the Vancouver Police Foundation have launched a public awareness campaign highlighting distraction thefts. (Don Marce/CBC News)

Visintin says the graffiti is disheartening and disrespectful to victims of these types of crimes.

"This has nothing to do with police. This is about the victims that this has been happening to and it's this ongoing problem of distraction theft."

Visintin says police are looking into the graffiti. She also says the billboard will be cleaned up and will not be removed.

With files from Cory Correia

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